Denton: O'Quinn Making Most of Opportunity

By John Denton
Jan. 24, 2014

ORLANDO – When Kyle O’Quinn was making an NBA name for himself late in his college career at Norfolk State University – capped, of course, by a stunning upset of second-seeded Missouri in the NCAA Tournament – he said the team was successful because it played ``like five wild men out there.’’

Those days sort of remind O’Quinn now of how the Orlando Magic’s blossoming second unit plays when it comes into games. Orlando’s second string, keyed predominantly by reserves Maurice Harkless, Doron Lamb and O’Quinn, along with starters Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris have contributed some stellar minutes of late for the Magic.

On Tuesday against Brooklyn, that group made 13 of 17 shots and delivered an eye-opening 34-point fourth quarter. On Wednesday against Atlanta, Orlando’s second squad brought the team back from a 19-point deficit, playing so well that the Magic actually zipped into a five-point lead late in the fourth quarter.

The reason for the stellar play of late, O’Quinn said, is the second unit is playing with a reckless abandon and with all out energy. Again, it reminds him of his college days when tiny Norfolk State stunned the basketball world in the NCAA Tournament.

``The style that we played (at Norfolk State) is similar to our second unit now. If you go back and watch some of those games, we were like five wild men out there,’’ O’Quinn said. ``That group, we’re going out there and fighting for each other no matter what. … We play for each other and that’s where our chemistry comes from. We don’t want to let anyone down.’’

The Magic (11-32) will likely lean heavily on the newfound success of their second unit tonight when they host the Los Angeles Lakers (16-27) at the Amway Center. The Lakers are still without Kobe Bryant (fractured kneecap) and are in a mess. They are 8½ games out of the playoff race in the rugged Western Conference after losing eight of the past 10 games, including a 109-102 decision in Miami on Thursday night.

At least one member of the Magic – Oladipo – is somewhat bummed out that Bryant won’t be in action. Oladipo has long studied the career of Bryant and dreamed of playing against him, but that won’t become a reality tonight.

``That would have been crazy and absolutely insane (facing Bryant), but he will be back, I think so,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m looking forward to that matchup. … I know how much of a competitor he is and I’m a competitor too, so it’s always fun to be matched up with those guys. Plus, he’s one of the greatest if not the greatest. It would have been real fun to have been matched up against him, but he’ll be back and I’m looking forward to that.’’

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has been looking for some life off the bench all season and it has finally arrived in the way that Orlando’s second unit has played of late. Vaughn said it is a huge asset for a team to know that it has depth it can turn to if the starters are struggling – as has been the case out of halftime the past two games.

``The important thing is that (second unit) continuing the chemistry and being ready every single game and having an approach about themselves,’’ Vaughn said. ``They have to have their mindset in the right place.’’

Harkless, who has been in and out of the rotation all season, said Orlando’s reserves have had success of late because they have turned their focus to defending and hustling all over the floor. Their ability to get stops and get out on the break was key in Orlando’s come-from-behind rally against Atlanta on Wednesday.

``We’re all bringing energy and playing off one another,’’ said Harkless, who had seven points, four rebounds and two steals against Brooklyn and 12 points and three rebounds against Atlanta. ``We pride ourselves on getting stops on defense. We didn’t even run plays while we were out there (on Wednesday) and it was just us playing on instincts and us playing together. We just have to keep that up.’’

Lamb, who had six points on Tuesday, played his best game of the season on Wednesday when he scored 13 points and drilled three 3-pointers. However, he was on the bench during the stretch run after picking up three fouls in 10 seconds and fouling out.

O’Quinn had his struggles with foul trouble earlier in the season, but he’s turned things around of late and is playing the best basketball of his NBA career. The Magic are still without Nikola Vucevic (concussion) and O’Quinn has been able to use the opportunity to show the Magic coaching staff what he is capable of doing when given extended playing time.

Over the last five games, O’Quinn has compiled 50 points, 34 rebounds and nine blocked shots to soften the loss of Vucevic somewhat. O’Quinn, a basketball late-bloomer and a small-school product, has been more effective of late because he’s played with more confidence and assertiveness.

``I just feel that coach has put me in a good position and it’s about me doing it over and over. Those minutes under your belt and seeing that real game time as opposed to seeing it on film helps,’’ O’Quinn said. ``We talk about it and try to simulate it in workouts, but that game experience is the best thing.’’